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For America, coming to terms with her own truth requires continually acknowledging the deep roots of racism

Soleil Nathwani Sep 15, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump. Art: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

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As America, often the world’s compass, comes face to face with her identity in a brutal way, every nation would do well to take an inward glance. To be here and to witness recent events unfold after White nationalists marched, killing one, in Charlottesville, Virginia, is heartbreaking and seemingly at odds with everything this country stands for. The nation that elected its first Black president this century saw White supremacists march espousing Ku Klux Klan ideology this month. If America is struggling to make sense of this schizophrenic moment, it’s because her libertarian ideals face daily contradiction, her elected leader stands in opposition to them and she must reconcile past and present.

For America, coming to terms with her own truth requires continually acknowledging the deep roots of racism. Prior to the Civil War the US Constitution of 1787 treated a slave as three fifths of a free White man for purposes of representation in Congress. After the Civil War, segregation disenfranchised Black Americans, only to be replaced by a prison system that allowed for the mass incarceration of Black communities. In the last century equality has been pursued, albeit ploddingly, by millions of Americans. But for anyone who naively thought the early Obama years signaled the advent of a post-racial United States, the current president’s unwillingness to denounce Neo-Nazi violence at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Virginia and the praised heaped on him by a former KKK leader, is a surreal wake up call. An America that has been eager to atone for the sins of the past is still dealing with demons within.

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In the haste to explain the hatred, Democrats and Republicans finally seem united in bringing the hammer down on Trump. While his actions are despicable and his moral stance more lacking than any leader in the country’s recent history, Trump is not so much the reason as an ugly symptom. Trump’s racist overtones were on full display during his campaign. He exhibited hostility towards the parents of a Muslim soldier killed in battle, called Mexicans rapists and refused to act against violence towards minority protesters at his rally. Yet half the country elected a leader whose campaign spoke in no uncertain terms to White entitlement. Depending on who you are the sparks of racism burn brightly across America. They have not been stamped out and in this moment they are being fanned. White supremacy has existed and now it is emboldened.

To be continually surprised by racism is a form of denial. If recent events mean that Americans cannot deny the ugliness, the underlying beauty is that change begins here. Perhaps it was easier to camouflage racism behind a Black President but the hostility of the Trump presidency forces everyone to claim their beliefs. Following the events of Charlottesville business leaders publicly denounced racism and exclusion, Republicans who supported Trump have reconsidered their allegiances, Fox News—a presidential favorite—carried its harshest criticism yet and Confederate statues serving as reminders of racial oppression are being taken down across the country.

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If America, in her newfound wokeness, is coming to terms with the fact that she might not be the Land of the Free, proving to be The Home of the Brave has put liberty in her sights. In India our own inequity is also grounded in history, the history of dowry, caste, division. Seventy years post partition as we take a moment to look back, we can keep America’s lessons in our sights. It is in grappling with the past that the present becomes palatable for all of us.

The author is a film producer and journalist and a former hedge fund COO. Twitter: @soleilnathwani

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